Sending a SignalPosted 7/18/2003
By Alexis Gross
Television long ago surpassed radio as the major source of at-home news and entertainment for most of America. Cable, satellite and the Internet form a large portion of the media most consumers use these days. However, some shop owners are turning to a more old-fashioned media outlet and seeing benefits in their shops and in the public's mind. Tune in and turn on: the radio show is back.
Winning Friends and Influencing Customers
Pat Goss, owner of Pat Goss Car World in Lanham, Md., is a veteran of both the automotive and the media business. He is the co-host of "Motor Week," which airs on more than 200 public broadcasting television stations, the SPEED Channel and the Armed Forces Network. He also has a local TV show and a radio show called "Goss's Garage," which has been on WJKF-FM for 18 years.
"Goss's Garage" is a live call-in show that airs four hours on Saturdays and Sundays. Goss has guests every week, and a short monologue at the beginning of every show, but he says the primary focus is on the callers.
"My show is a training ground. A lot of people who call, talk about it being an education for them," he said. "My forte is being able to break down very complicated topics in terms that a novice can easily understand. I go through what terms mean when I'm explaining an answer. I tell them in plain English what a crankshaft position sensor does, where it's located and why it's important - so they understand the relationship of things."
Donny Seyfer, of Seyfer Automotive in Wheat Ridge, Colo., co-hosts "The Colorado Select NAPA Auto Care Radio Network" with John Rush, owner of John's 4x4 Center in Boulder, Colo. They've been broadcasting from KHOW-AM in Denver for six years.
Seyfer took over hosting the show after it had an unsuccessful run with a professional radio host. The show had few listeners due to the "good ol' boy" nature of the content, he said.
"We really stay away from do-it-yourself calls," Seyfer said. "It's not interesting to the listener. We're there to get more cars into independent repair shops and to demonstrate our customer service ability. We're trying to teach them how to get in the shop and what questions to ask when they get there."
James Morris, owner of James Auto Center Inc. in Panama City, Fla., is the master auto technician of "Ask the Master Auto Technician" on WYOO-FM. He's been hosting the show every Saturday morning for almost six years. He keeps his business in mind while helping his callers.
"People call with questions from 'what's the right kind of oil' to 'When I hit my turn signal, the lights go dim.' I can tell them areas to look, but these people that call are not my customers," he said. "It's the people that don't call, that don't work on cars, that hear me and see that I know what I'm talking about."
Morris also emphasizes the need to inform listeners.
"Cars are not breaking like they used to; that's why we have to educate the consumer to know when something is wrong," he said.
Benefits of Exposure
Are there benefits to hosting a radio show besides being a local celebrity? Certainly, said Morris, but it takes hard work, dedication and a plan.
"I get people that come from as far as 100 miles away every day to have me work on their cars," he said. "We devote 9 percent of our gross income to advertising, and it's obviously delivering a return. The radio show gets the right people in my shop."
Goss's experience has been entirely different.
"The show has been a big boon to business, but not in the way you would naturally think," he said. "I don't mention my shop at all. What's beneficial to my business is that it keeps me in touch with what clients are concerned about. Problems they've had with this shop or another shop put me on notice that these are things I need to watch out for."
Communication is the biggest problem callers seem to have with repair shops, Goss said.
"Clients don't understand what they're being told and what is actually going to be done, or the features and benefits of the services being recommended," he said. "Consequently, I spend a lot of time educating my techs and service writers, and helping other businesses straighten out their service departments."
But what's the point of being a shop owner on the air if you're not advertising your shop? Goss is careful to point out that he does plenty of advertising, but it is carefully directed at the customers he wants to serve.
"Most of the potential clients I get from the show, I don't want," he said. "I can entice this person to come to my place of business as a result of the show because they have a problem that I can fix. The key word is that it's a problem. In most cases, these won't be people in my neighborhood. They may drive 30 to 100 miles to get this repair done.
"I beat myself up, get their car repaired, and they're thrilled. In doing this, I have added to my gross sales, but there isn't going to be any real profit in it. Because a lot of these people are far away from me, or already have an allegiance to someone else, the profitable work is going to go back to the original shop. Here I've gone to great lengths to fix this car and what do I get out of it? Nothing. I look at it as a decidedly false economy."
Goss stresses that the benefit of doing his show is money. The money is from his diverse media income (in addition to the radio and television broadcasts, he writes for newspapers, advertising agencies and is a spokesman for several products) and the sponsors of his show.
"Because I am completely impartial and I don't hawk my own business, I get lots and lots of advertising on my show," he said.
Goss maintains a good relationship with sponsors and rigorously inspects a shop before accepting their sponsorship.
"I won't take a sponsor until I go to their shop, check it out and interview them, so I feel confident in their service," he said.
Because he rarely wants new business from callers, he refers them to his sponsors.
"I'm the good guy to the caller and also to the business. That bolsters my relationship with the advertiser and provided they do a good job, the client promotes my show," he said.
Seyfer adjusted his show's format when it was clearly not working. A losing proposition became a money-maker through a few strategic moves.
"The show wasn't really driving business because the host at the time wasn't driving people to the shop. I kept listening and hearing people who just wanted a place to take their car," he said. "We set up a referral line and a Web site so that we don't just sound like one long commercial on air."
Who you focus on really makes a difference, Seyfer said.
"It's a really expensive thing to experiment with. We would have failed without NAPA's money behind us," he said. "Now that I've changed the format to focus on people who really want to take their cars in for repair, the NAPA guys wouldn't let us shut it down."
All these radio hosts agree that sponsors and advertising are key to keeping a show on the air. Morris' sponsors sometimes join him on the show in addition to running ads.
"Sponsors come on my show and compare how their industry and ours is similar. You wouldn't expect dentists or financial planners to have anything to do with automotive service," he said, "but we both emphasize planning and maintenance. We tie it together with an automotive twist."
It's also necessary to promote the show so that listeners know when and where to tune in. The radio station usually runs promos for the show during the week, but Morris does additional advertising as well.
"I promote myself through monthly newsletters, the Web site, correspondence from the radio show and I make my own TV commercials," he said. "We cross-promote the radio show through everything, and the radio show gives legitimacy to me as a local expert. Whether I am or not, perception is reality."
Seyfer, who purchases a block of airtime for his show, buys all of the commercial time from the station as well, then sells those advertising spots back to members of his group.
"Before, we were buying the commercials and the time from Clear Channel, so this has really helped to get our budget under control," he said.
Clear Channel, which owns KHOW and several other stations in the area, promotes Seyfer's show on the stations it owns.
"We also do live broadcasts at Taste of Colorado and other festivals," Seyfer said. "We're doing a Car Care Fair soon at our auto centers at seven locations throughout the city. I'm going to do a live broadcast at one location, and John is going to drive around to other locations and talk to the technicians there."
Goss's show is such a draw for his station that he is included with some of the other big names, like Howard Stern, in the station's advertising on billboards, television and newspapers.
Improving the Industry
Having a media presence can benefit not only your shop, but also the image of shop owners in general.
"The group gets elevated in the area as a serious contender against the dealerships," Seyfer said. "There's no dealership in our market out there helping vehicle owners. AAA doesn't have this kind of forum. These guys are qualified as experts. We elevate them to being more professional."
ASA sometimes finds its way into the conversation as well.
"I don't think we have a shop in our group now that's not an ASA member," Seyfer said. "When we were first starting out, ASA-Colorado marketed through our show."
Even if ASA is not mentioned by name, Morris said, the same philosophy is at work.
"I don't talk much about ASA specifically, but I talk about the same things, like professionalism," he said. "Professionalism is in the first paragraph of ASA's mission statement, and that is what I'm doing. I'm telling shop owners out there: Clean your place up. Look at yourself; do you see a mechanic or a professional businessman?"
While the industry has progressed in some ways, Morris said, in other ways, it has regressed.
"We've come a long way in terms of professionalism, but until we quit giving prices over the telephone, we will continue to flounder as non-professionals and blue-collar technicians," he said. "We're professionals and we need to start acting like it. I tell callers to expect to pay for a diagnosis. Doctors don't do it free, so why should I? I pay thousands for equipment and my business costs money."
Professionalism also extends to the show itself. All the hosts agreed that callers should not be allowed to name shops they've had problems with on the air. They encourage their listeners to resolve their disputes with the shop.
"If somebody's on the phone with a problem when a shop has done something really stupid or potentially dishonest, I'll say so, but follow with a comment like, 'There's a rare one,'" Goss said. "If a caller has a problem, especially with someone associated with the show, I'll take the call off the air, or suggest that both parties come on air so they can hash it out."
ASA doesn't come up all that often, Goss said, but when he is talking about things to look for when choosing a repair shop, ASE and ASA are two terms he discusses.
"ASA represents a commitment on the part of the business to being progressive and conducting good business," Goss said. So, You Want Your Own Show?
Increased revenue and fame is a great dream to reach for, but there are certain things you should keep in mind, say these radio veterans.
"No. 1, know your business backward and forward, and know how to present what you know," said Goss. "The key isn't what you know, but being able to convey what you know to other people.
"You also have to be prepared to swallow your ego," he said. "You don't know it all, you can't know it all, and be prepared to say 'I don't know.'"
"Sit down and write both a financial and a business plan, and really sort out your format before you start" said Seyfer.
If you're not being offered a show as Goss was, Seyfer recommends that you buy the whole block of airtime from the station and sell the commercials back to yourself.
"Survey your market," said Morris. "Find the right format and audience for your market. Find out what people want to listen to before you get a radio show. People want to be informed and entertained, not preached at."